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Judge Ponders Plan to Put Out Bridgeton Landfill Fire

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Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill, where underground fire has been smoldering since December 2010 (Photo: KMOX)

Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill, where underground fire has been smoldering since December 2010 (Photo: KMOX)

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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A judge says he’ll decide by morning whether a plan to put out the fire and end the smell at the Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill is workable.

The plan — crafted by the Missouri Attorney General and the landfill owner, Republic Services Inc. — has not yet been made public. It’s now in the hands of Circuit Court Judge Michael Jamison, who met in his chambers with lawyers from both sides on a day he was scheduled to hold a hearing on the Attorney General’s lawsuit against the landfill.

“It’s not exactly a settlement,” Jamison told Bridgeton residents, reporters and environmentalists waiting in his courtroom, “But it’s something that would address the smoldering issue and what the sate may be able to do.”

The lawsuit filed by the state calls for an aggressive plan to put out the fire, which has been smoldering since December 2010 — and for fines upwards of tens-of-thousand a dollars a day for alleged violations of Missouri environmental laws. Koster’s suit claims the burning landfill is billowing benzene and other hazardous chemicals into the air, and leaking a black ooze into ground water.

Koster’s office declined to comment. The Attorney General has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 Tuesday morning in downtown St. Louis to reveal details of the proposed next step.

Already, complaints are rising that the apparent deal was made without input from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, from area businesses or from Bridgeton residents.

“The community needs to be at the table,” said the coalition’s Kat Logan Smith, “The property owners, the families and businesses here need to be at the table, because they need to decide what the bottom line is.”

During Judge Jamison’s meeting with residents in his courtroom, Bridgeton mom Dawn Chapman asked the judge to not make any decision that sets an arbitrary line on the map showing who is affected and who is not. Chapman says the smell is so bad some nights, she has to put wet towels at the bottom of her bedroom door to keep the odor out. And some days the smell is so bad children can’t wait for the school bus and need a ride to school.Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill

Other have complained about a smell described as “rotten eggs,” “dead rats,” and “burning trash” wafting into the emergency room at nearby DePaul Health Center, and into classrooms at Rose Elementary school and Pattonville High School.

Judge Jamison assured the residents gathered in his court room that he would not make any final decisions that can’t be changed.

“What I’m looking at is not the end all and be all of what will happen,” Jamison said, “If anyone wants to address the court, my door will be open.”

Looking ahead to the unveiling of the proposed way forward, the Coalition for the Environment says any good plan should include more timely release to the public of data from groundwater and air monitoring at the site.

“People need to know what they’re breathing,” said Kat Logan Smith, “because they’re exposing their families to this stuff. They need to know it as soon as possible.”

Smith says the plan needs to keep the public informed about the presence of benzene, sulfur compounds — especially hydrogen sulfide — a neuro-toxin she says is bad for pregnant women. Also, of concern the nuclear waste wild card.

The portion of the landfill that’s burning was by last account some 1,200 feet from the nearby West Lake Landfill nuclear dump site, where leftover ingredients from the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project are stored.

“We’re looking for trends in that (radioactive) data, because we don’t want to see that number going up,” she said, “because that indicates there’s already been a problem with the radioactive part of the site migrating more than the EPA ever thought it would.”

Copyright KMOX

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